Technology Thursday

In my day job I often ask the question: “Can I e-mail that to you?” I work for a farming co-op, and this time of year customers want information about their accounts – how much they spent, how much grain they brought in, etc. I am always surprised when someone says, in a tone that indicates they are tired of this questions “Oh, no, I don’t do that.” Like it is some kind of secret that only a few people know.

I will admit, some of my friends are technology resistant. (I know one guy who still brags that he doesn’t have a cell phone). Maybe I was a bit resistant also two decades ago, when as a single mom, I decided to finish the college degree I had left behind. I remember my advisor telling me one day, “I have called you back for the last time, Karen. You have to learn to use e-mail. It’s not hard. If you have questions, go to IT, they will help you.” If this sounds harsh – it wasn’t. She helped me grow up technology-wise by leaps and bounds my first year.

Her message was clear. Stop being a Luddite and learn the technology you need to get along in college. I was at a large state university, so her advice, to “go to IT”, was a daunting task. While I had been using word processing programs, and accounting software, I had never really had an e-mail account. It was just something I had never thought about. The college provided us with an e-mail account I found out when I went to IT. They also gave me a password that was so long I couldn’t imagine how I would ever remember it. I did it. I learned to use e-mail, when it was pretty new – and I was about 40 years old. I felt very empowered.

Here’s what I’m saying about this issue of learning new technology and even more so keeping up with technology: everyone today should have an e-mail account that they use, and know the address for, and understand how to access from any computer. Not having an e-mail is like saying I’m homeless. I don’t have an address. (O.K. maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but honestly so much gets done this way today). Your doctor’s office e-mails reminders about appointments. Some stores will e-mail receipts. And your family and friends can keep in touch with you and you with them through this “new” technology.

What’s more,  most e-mail providers make it very easy to sign up for an account. Then it is only a matter of remembering your login name and password. Yes. Those who are unfamiliar with this kind of technology may have to write down their login name and password and keep it somewhere (a wallet, taped to a wall near their computer, in their pocket, etc.). And there are lots to helpful videos on YouTube that can help you walk through the process. Here’s one to start. How to set up a Gmail account.

I carried my login name and password with me for almost a year. I remember the excitement when one day, I realized I had remembered them both. I also remember the satisfaction, when after e-mailing my advisor for the first time, she responded to me very quickly. My e-mail was my lifeline that first year back to college. I could keep in touch easily with cohort members, my advisor, and even keep up to day with my bursar bill and my progress towards graduation. All without running from one office to the next on campus. I could do it from any lab, from any building, whenever I had a break in my schedule.

When my mom was 72 years old, my brother bought her a computer. She was so excited about e-mail. She taught herself how to set up an account and how to use it – she was like that. I suppose one of us said go to this email provider or that email provider and sign up, but she did it herself. Her e-mail address was Foxy1925. This was just like my mom. Fox was her maiden name, and in college Foxy was her nickname.

After my mom’s passing, it was such a comfort to sometimes find an e-mail that she had written the year before (I tend to save certain e-mails). And I will admit, e-mails don’t have the permanence that a handwritten letter has, but e-mail is a great way to send a note to someone far away and to exchange pictures. E-mail is the way things get done today. It is new, but it isn’t difficult. Being open to learning new things also keeps us young, and learning how to use an e-mail account will not only feel empowering, it will bring you messages from loved ones who may no longer live close to. What could be better then to wake up to an e-mail from a friend or loved one hundreds of miles away from you.

The other morning I woke up to an e-mail from my youngest son’s new mother-in-law. I will meet her and my son’s new father-in-law in a couple of weeks. My son lives in California, and he and his girlfriend were married in March. I have seen wedding pictures (they were married at the courthouse with friends) and pictures from a trip to Yosemite, and I have gotten to know his new mother-in-law through e-mails we have been writing to each other. Without e-mail all of this would still be a mystery to me. I’m happy that all those years ago as a “non-traditional” college student I took my advisor’s advice and learned how to use my e-mail.

If you are reading this blog, you probably are tech savvy enough to have an e-mail account, but I bet you know someone who doesn’t have one. Why not show them how to set an e-mail account, and then write to them? My mom loved getting up in the morning and discovering she had some e-mails to read and answer.

Help someone be a little bit more tech savvy!